While Ves got to know Raella better, Melkor remained an enigma. Even though he suspected that Raella knew his story, his niece stubbornly shut her mouth when Ves sent out a probe.
"Melkor's story is his own to tell. I don't want to get on his bad side." Raella explained as she shuddered in an exaggerated fashion. "Watch out for the quiet ones."
Throughout the entire trip, Ves only gathered a couple of clues that shed a bit of light on Melkor. First, he hadn't shed the habit of comporting himself as a military officer at the start. He slowly stopped moving around in a rigid fashion when he drew too many eyes. A guard should not attract too much attention, after all.
Second, Melkor never withdrew his visor. Ves almost swore his older cousin even showered and slept with the visor on. Its large but sleek appearance signified its incredible origins. Ves hadn't even seen such a high-end gadget in the Bright Republic.
He wondered what Melkor saw when he constantly donned the visor. Was he constantly looking for threats? Or was he secretly browsing the galactic net like a comm junkie?
In any case, Melkor never appeared to be too distracted, so Ves didn't call him out. Besides his eccentricities, Melkor always followed his instructions.
In contrast, every time he spoke to Raella, she always acted confrontational. Ves had to tread lightly around her in order to avoid setting her off. She still harbored revenge fantasies against Virma, and wasn't afraid to be vocal about it whenever the Silver Chancellors played a match.
"I don't mean to pry, but maybe you should stop watching the mech games." Ves suggested one day. The Greenwind already passed the halfway mark into her journey to Bentheim. "It's not like you can salvage your career."
Predictably, Raella growled at him and left the suite. Ves imagined she intended to vent her frustration in one of the Greenwind's simulator pods.
He knew he hadn't been gentle, but she truly needed a dose of reality. The sporting leagues loved their controversies, but Raella had taken it too far. The sooner she got over this bump in her life, the sooner she could get her head back into the real game. Ves imagined she could be of great use to him once he earned her loyalty.
"On my own, I'm nothing." Ves admitted to himself. Besides Lucky, he was completely at the mercy to anyone who pointed a gun at him. Even if his feline companion could shred through a squad of infantry, Lucky had no way to threaten a mech.
Only mechs could guard against mechs.
One of the reasons why Ves assented to selling a twenty-five percent stake was because he wanted to co-opt some trustworthy mech pilots. Of all the possible people he could entrust his safety, he could never go wrong with family. For all the frequent internal squabbling, the Larkinsons never resorted to the kind of backstabbing Virma had pulled off on Raella and her friends.
Even though he questioned Raella and Melkor's reliability, it didn't change the fact that they shared the same surname. Ves could not imagine in a million years that someone could subvert his own family against him. Against the shadowy influences arrayed against them, trustworthy guards were worth their weight in exotics.
When the Greenwind finally arrived at Bentheim, Ves departed from the ship along with his two companions. The space station's loaders also brought out their personal mechs and temporary stowed them away.
This time, Ves wanted to conduct some business, so he took a shuttle and descended to the surface. He reached the upscale business district where his mech broker holed up in her lair.
After leaving his escort in the office building's foyer, Ves took the elevator to the top floor where Marcella awaited his arrival.
"Good to see you again, Ves!" The hefty woman greeted him with a smile. She offered him a glass of liquor. "Want a drink?"
"No thanks, I'm here for business." He replied while seating himself across her desk. "I've got a couple of matters to talk about."
She passed him a handful of electronic documents that displayed various bits of performance data. None of his customers employed the Marc Antony Mark II's in an actual battle as of yet, but the results from the various live-fire training exercises spoke for themselves.
"That's some pretty decent performance." Ves contently noted. The mercs who bought his products possessed enough skill to make the most out of its capabilities. "What's their feedback?"
"Their technicians are having a hard time maintaining the internals, but they're making do. Overall, I haven't received any significant complaints. Your buyers are pretty satisfied so far. "
The lack of malfunctions bode well for the Mark II's future. "I'll be busy with a project, so I won't be able to fabricate any mechs for the time being. I plan to hand over the production of silver label mechs to a fabricator I've trained. While he's not as good as me, he work should be able to pass certification, if only barely."
Marcella looked a little sceptical. "I've always heard the Caesar Augustus and its variants are plagued by constant setbacks during the fabrication process. Are you sure you're ready?"
"My fabricator spent months to master my design. I'm pretty confident he's up to the task. Just to be sure, don't start swamping me with orders."
"That won't be a problem. We'll delay the public reveal of the Mark II for the time being. I can use these metrics along with the testimonies from your first batch of customers to drum up some sales."
Ves hammered out a tentative schedule with Marcella. He also allowed her to correspond with Carlos directly in order to handle these minor matters. So long as Marcella regularly provided his business with orders, he'd be able to earn a constant stream of revenue.
"I take it you're not here to talk about the Mark II, right?"
He nodded. "There's also the matter of my ship. How is the Barracuda holding up?"
"She's safely stowed away along with the rest of my inventory. Your pretty corvette is quite a sight, you know. Every time I bring in a customer to deliver their mechs, they always ask me if she's for sale."
They both knew that Ves would be a fool to sell such a remarkable spaceship. "Haha, they can dream. In any case, I'd like to repair and staff my ship."
"Are you going somewhere?"
"Not for the moment, but you never know." He carefully replied. "There may be times where my services are required elsewhere. The ability to move anywhere I want is bound to be useful once I increase my fame."
In fact, he'd been eyeing the missions offered by the Clifford Society for a while now. He never let go of his dream to design an original mech. In order to reach this milestone quickly, Ves planned to amass a lot of merits in order to exchange for a set of quality production machines.
As for the Larkinson family's seed money? Ves already put the 500 million credits aside. When the time came to work on an original design, he intended to spend the money on acquiring the necessary component licenses.
All of this haste was an effort to make himself more valuable once a war broke out. The Mech Corps treated their called-up mech designers differently according to their achievements.
Those who dwelled at the bottom like Carlos could expect to be regarded as disposable cannon fodder. They often assisted the short-handed and overworked mech technicians at major supply points.
Mech designers who possessed practical experience in designing and selling mechs were often assigned as mid-level supervisors.
Only designers who designed an original mech had the opportunity to employ their design talents. The Mech Corps always assigned such valuable minds to one of their many design teams.
Marcella already made the necessary arrangements to repair the Barracuda. He quickly transferred 22 million credits to cover the greedy shipyard's costs and hire some spacers to crew his ship.
"You'll need a captain, pilot, engineer and at least one or two ratings to properly crew your ship. You can't get by with less unless you intend to run your billion credits ship to the ground."
"We'll go by your arrangements since you know better than me. Just make sure you're not hiring a bunch of pirates in disguise."
"Trustworthy spacers are hard to find. You'll have to throw in a lot more money in order to contract a crew who won't cut and run as soon as you encounter trouble."
After a quick discussion, Ves transferred a hundred thousand credits in order to facilitate the hiring process.
"Oh, there's one more thing I'd like to talk about." He said. He sent over a handful of documents his family's lawyers had drafted. "As soon as I get back, I plan to register a corporation. The Larkinsons agreed to purchase a twenty-five percent stake, you see, and I've already waited long enough to incorporate my business."
"That's great news! It's a lot less risky to do business once you move over to a limited liability structure. Are you still selling stock by any chance?"
"Not at the moment." Ves awkwardly laughed. Giving up a fourth of his stock to his family was one thing. He didn't intend to be so generous to outsiders no matter how much a help his mech broker had been. He firmly intended to maintain a cordial relationship with her.
"So what's your question?"
"I've already come up with a logo for my corporation." He replied, and summoned up his familiar emblem of a stylized Lucky sleeping atop a prismatic cloud over a giant V letter. "I'm still grappling with an appropriate name. I've been trying many random names but they don't really roll off the tongue."
His mech broker nodded seriously. "Determining your company's name is one of the most important choices you can make. A bad name won't be much of a drag, but a good name can absolutely be a boon to your marketing."
Under Marcella's guidance, he quickly ruled out several categories of names. For example, he declined to use an acronym unlike the famous BSBH Corporation that operated various popular virtual games like Iron Spirit. He also declined to use a safe but boring name like the Larkinson Corporation or the Cloudy Curtain Mech Corporation.
"Perhaps we're taking the wrong approach." Marcella noted in an exasperated fashion. They'd been at it for half an hour and Ves still hadn't settled on a suitable name. "The name of your company is both an identity and a brand. Think of your products and your future goals. Think of your specialties and selling points. What makes your products different from others?"
Ves leaned back and considered her advice. First of all, he distinguished himself from his competitors with the help of the System. Such a miraculous invention should never come to light, so he quickly decided not to use it as an inspiration for his company's name.
That left his specialties. So far, Ves intended to specialize in both the X-Factor and a balance between speed and armor. The issue with the former was that it couldn't be measured or put in a spec sheet. The issue with the latter was that he lacked sufficient depth compared with those who fully committed to either speed or armor.
Perhaps he might be overthinking the issue. Ves wanted to build a company that embodied his dreams. What was his ultimate dream?
To reach the pinnacle of mech design! To explore the ultimate limits of a mech! To see whether mechs can come to life!
His eyes instantly brightened. Could it be so simple? Ves wanted to convey the message that his mechs had life! Even if hardly anyone knew about the X-Factor, the bold aspiration should help convince his customers that his mechs were worth the price.
"I've thought up a name." He said. After repeating the name in his head, he finally decided to air it out in the open. "The Living Mech Corporation, or LMC for short."
The Living Mech Corporation!
Marcella widened her eyes. Despite its fairly plain use of words, the mere idea of producing a mech that could be described as living was a bold one! It already described the indistinct sensation that every customer of his mechs had mentioned to her. His mechs felt more alive than any other ones!
"It's a decent, if somewhat simple name. Are you sure you want to roll with it? It also brings up an unpleasant association with the fantasy of designing a mech composed of living tissue."
Ves firmly held on to his stance. "I'm certain. The name describes my philosophy of treating mechs like persons instead of machines. I don't want my customers to associate my products with commodities to be discarded at will."
Every mech is a life to be treasured!